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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Western students take to the streets to spread homeless awareness

Holding cardboard signs on street corners throughout Bellingham, groups of Western students worked to raise awareness about homelessness.

As part of a service-learning project, communication studies students held signs on Samish Way, Lakeway Drive and around downtown Bellingham from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 14.

“We’re trying to get the word out about homelessness,” Western junior Jenna Harvey said.

Student’s signs displayed statistics such as “51 percent of homeless people are women” and “7 out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.” Others included calls to action and the hashtag “#endhomelessness.”

All month long, assistant professor Tara Perry’s Organizational Communication and Interpersonal Communication classes have been devoted to Homelessness Awareness Month.

“The end goal of today is really to communicate with the public, inform them about the different issues facing homelessness, and to break the stereotypes and stigmas of homeless people,” Perry, said.

Perry’s classes have also been partnered with Bellingham’s Opportunity Council in their events and drives. The Opportunity Council is a nonprofit service organization that aids homeless and low-income families and individuals.

Sophomore Cody Stephens said people assume alcoholism and drug addiction lead to homelessness. However, most often, the causes are institutional issues such as lack of affordable housing, he said.

Many people who passed by tried to offer the students money, stopped to ask about their signs or honked from their car.

Amelia Wolfe, a junior at Western, said the fact that people have approached them means they are reading their sings and are willing to engage.

“We know we won’t be able to wipe out homelessness by the end of the quarter, but right now we’re hoping to make a difference in even one person’s life by spreading awareness in the community,” Wolfe said.

Several homeless people or people who made it out of homelessness have told them it is nice to know there are people who care, Harvey said.

Throughout the quarter, students have researched homelessness, volunteered with outside organizations, heard from guest speakers and tabled in Red Square. They have also been involved in a campus-wide clothing drive.

Wolfe and junior Ryan Parish said their whole experience has been humbling and eye opening.

“A lot of the time, we’re in our little Western bubble and it’s easy to forget about what’s going on in the community,” Wolfe said. One of the best parts about this service-learning project is getting involved, she said.

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